The wooded 140-acre Tusculum campus has nine buildings and the Tusculum Arch that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tusculum University originates from two distinct institutions. In 1794, two years before Tennessee received statehood, Territorial Governor William Blount and the General Assembly chartered Greeneville College with Reverend Hezekiah Balch as president. Twenty-four years later. Samuel Doak and his son, Samuel Witherspoon Doak, founded Tusculum Academy in 1818.
The inspiration for the name of Tusculum can be traced through Doak and Balch’s alma mater, the Co11ege of New Jersey (now Princeton University), to a small community near Rome, Italy called Tusculum. There, Roman educator, philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero espoused the importance of civic virtue as the foundation of representative government and civil society. Cicero’s political ideas inspired an early American ethos that emphasized the responsibilities of ethical citizenship needed in the early republic. This civic-republican tradition, which informed Doak and Balch’s religious and educational mission to the early frontier, lives on in Tusculum’s commitment to a civic arts curriculum.
Tusculum merged with Greeneville College in 1868 as men and women across the nation attempted to rebuild social institutions after the American Civil War. A turning point in the school’s history occurred in 1883 when three recent alumni transferred from Lane Seminary to McCormick Seminary to solicit the patronage of the McCormick family. The story of talented, hard-working students from humble origins resonated with the McCormick family and Mrs. Nettie Fowler-McCormick soon emerged as the first major patron of the institution. Her gifts resulted in the construction of five major buildings beginning with McCormick Hall in 1887.
Tusculum endured the challenges and tragedies of two world wars in the early twentieth century. Often led by its own students, the institution evolved and adjusted to the new social realities ushered in by the civil rights, anti-war and women’s movements in the 1960s and 70s. The institution innovated in the 1980s and 90s with the adoption of a focused calendar and a renewed commitment to service that brought higher education within reach of working adults across the region. Most recently, the continued growth and development of professional and graduate degree programs spurred the transition from college to university status in 2018.
At the precipice of the institution’s 225th year, Tusculum University remembers the recent past and the generosity of individuals such as Dr. Scott Niswonger and Mrs. Verna June Meen. Pioneers, both present and future, are the beneficiaries of their civic spirit and caretakers of a legacy that challenges them to realize the full measure of their potential, both on campus and in their communities.
Tusculum is the first institution of higher learning in Tennessee and the 28th oldest in the nation. Tusculum is the first institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to admit women and the first in Tennessee to educate an African-American student. Tusculum’s greatest accomplishments, however, have not been recorded by historians, nor have they been attained within the narrow confines of a college campus. Tusculum’s most meaningful history has been, and continues to be, written in the countless actions of its graduates as they have fanned out over the globe to do the work for which they were trained.